The Saturday Edge participated in a 2012 Big 10 preview with the guys over at College Football Zealots. Below is my predicted order of finish for each division and my projected winner of the Big 10 Championship game:
1. Wisconsin (7-1)
Led by Montee Ball, the Badger’s running game will be very good again in 2012. Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien will not be an equal replacement for the departed Russell Wilson, but he won’t have to be. The schedule has Ohio State and Michigan State at home, and only an early season trip to Nebraska looks tough on the road slate. Wisconsin will not have to do much to win this division with Ohio State ineligible to play in the postseason. The trip to Lincoln and the play of O’Brien could be the only things keeping the Badgers from a perfect season.
2. Ohio State (6-2)
The Urban Meyer era beings in Columbus and there is talent aplenty for the Buckeyes. Quarterback Braxton Miller should feel like a new player with the fast paced spread attack being installed and the ground and boring offense being shown the door for the Scarlet and Grey. As mentioned above, Ohio State is banned from post season play, so motivation could be a factor for the team. However, Meyer’s energy and effort should allow the Buckeyes to beat the less talented teams on the schedule. If Miller and the offense take off and the defense returns to pre-2011 form, Ohio State could run the table and go 12-0 with no shot at a championship.
3. Illinois (4-4)
New coach Tim Beckman takes over at Illinois and has Nathan Scheelhaase and his 26 starts at quarterback to work with. Scheelhaase is an explosive athlete but has not been great throwing the ball. Beckman’s offense at Toledo put up over 42 PPG in 2011, so look for the Illini to improve on the 22.6 they scored last season. There are 7 starters back on defense, but sack master Whitney Mercilus is now in Houston playing for the Texans. Illinois could be much improved from 2011’s 7-6 team, but the record may not reflect it. Trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State will be tough, but if Scheelhaase picks up the offense, the Illini are capable of pulling a big upset or two.
4. Purdue (3-5)
The Boilermakers went bowling for the first time in 4 years last season. 8 starters (including 3 quarterbacks with experience) return on offense and star DT Kawann Short is also back. The conference schedule is front loaded with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State being the first 3 games. Of the 7 wins last season, it took a blocked FG to beat Middle Tennessee and a blocked XP to beat OSU in overtime. Despite the talented returning, the setup of the schedule will prevent Purdue from challenging Wisconsin for the Leaders title.
5. Penn State (1-7)
There is not much to say here. Penn State is in trouble and I don’t see how the program can recover from the sanctions imposed this summer. Talented players Silas Redd (USC), Justin Brown (Oklahoma), and Anthony Fera (Texas), among others are gone. The Nittany Lions were not going to challenge for the division championship before the events of the last few weeks, but with the defections and issues hanging over the program, new coach Bill O’Brien has his hands full in Happy Valley. Depth will be an issue this year and going forward and that makes it hard to hang with the big boys. A 1-11 or 2-10 type season is not farfetched in 2012.
6. Indiana (0-8)
The best thing about the start of football for sports fans in Bloomington is that basketball season is just 72 days away. Kevin Wilson took over last season after success as a coordinator at Oklahoma, but it was rough in his first season at the helm. There were no wins over FBS teams and 9 straight losses to end the season. The Hoosiers do return sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson who put up some decent numbers as a true freshman. However, with home games against Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin, there doesn’t appear to be a conference win in the cards for 2012.
1. Michigan State (7-1)
The defending division champions return 8 starters from one of the nations’ best defenses. William Gholston is a monster at defensive end and cornerback Johnny Adams was first team all Big Ten in 2011. However, starting quarterback and 3 year captain Kirk Cousins is no longer in the green and white and the top 4 receivers are gone as well. Junior Andrew Maxwell is ready to take over under center and with a strong running game and defense to lean on, the transition should not be too bad. Getting Ohio State and Nebraska at home will help, but trips in back to back weeks to Michigan and Wisconsin will determine if the Spartans are ready to repeat in the Legends divisions.
2. Nebraska (5-3)
The Cornhuskers enter year 2 of Big Ten play and the schedule makers are making things tough again. Nebraska again draws Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders division and these two games are back to back to start the season. The Huskers return the veteran backfield duo of quarterback Taylor Martinez and tailback Rex Burkhead, but it looks like there may be issues on the offensive line in Lincoln. Projected left tackle Tyler Moore, who became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start opening day in Nebraska history last season, has decided to take the fall semester off and may leave the school. With only 2 others starters returning on the offensive line, Martinez and Burkhead may find running room scarce this season. Nebraska will be near the top of the division this season, but the schedule will prevent a championship.
2. Michigan (5-3)
Michigan is the Big Ten team getting the most love from the national media during the preseason as they check in with a #8 ranking in the first coaches’ poll. The return of the dynamic Denard Robinson and last season’s 11 wins provide justification for the hype. Things won’t be near as easy for the Wolverines in 2012. Michigan pulled out late wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State and somehow won the Sugar Bowl despite being doubled in yards by Virginia Tech. The defense returns 7 starters, but gone are 3 linemen, including all Big Ten tackle Mike Martin. Robinson and the offense should be fine, but the step back coming for the defense will keep Michigan from taking the Legends in 2012.
2. Northwestern (5-3)
Northwestern has a chance in 2012 because of the setup of the schedule. The Wildcats start Big Ten play with Indiana and then take road trips to Penn State and Minnesota. There is a decent chance that when Northwestern welcomes Nebraska to Evanston in late October that the Cats will be sporting a 3-0 conference mark. Wins over the Huskers and the following week on homecoming against Iowa, could send Northwestern in the home stretch need just a win at either Michigan or Michigan State to have a chance at the title. Dual threat quarterback Kain Colter is back but he will need help. Colter is the leading returner in passing, rushing, and receiving yards. If he stays healthy and coach Pat Fitzgerald patches together a defense, Northwestern could have a say in this division come November.
2. Iowa (5-3)
A returning starter at quarterback and a nice schedule give Iowa hopes of a Legends’ championship in 2012. There is no Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Illinois (My 3 favorites in the Leaders) on the slate. Trips to Michigan and Michigan State will decide the Big Ten season for the Hawkeyes. James Vandenberg is the leading passer returning in the conference and receiver Keenan Davis is a consensus preseason all league pick. There are issues at running back and not much returning on the defensive line, but the passing game is capable of carrying this team. A soft early season schedule should provide enough time for the other units to get their bearings and possibly send the Hawks near the top of the division standings.
6. Minnesota (0-8)
Quarterback MarQueis Gray is a fantastic player and is poised to have a great season. After that, I just don’t like much about this team. The top receiver (Da’Jon McKnight) and top 2 tacklers (Kim Royston and Gary Tinsley) are gone. It wasn’t until Jerry Kill’s 3rd season at Northern Illinois that the Huskies showed a lot of improvement, so the Gophers may be a year or two away. Home games include Michigan and Michigan State so conference wins will be hard to come by for Minnesota in 2012.
I like a role reversal from 2011 in this years’ game. I will take Michigan State to avenge a regular season loss against Wisconsin and win the 2012 Big Ten Championship.
Please check out the entire article and a lot more information on each team here.
Please leave me your thoughts and questions on the 2012 Big 10 preview below. Thanks.